Approaching life with this sense of joyfulness is important within the Sikh faith and Guru Nanak’s philosophy
Every summer, thousands of people travel to the beautiful hills of Scotland in the hunt for that most elusive of things. A good laugh. I’m talking, of course, about the Edinburgh Fringe. Comedians from all over the world flock to the Fringe in the hope of making their big break, including some from the US as we heard on this programme yesterday.
British humour is something we as a nation are very much proud of, and rightly so. From Hancock’s Half Hour to Citizen Khan, our ability for self-deprecation is an essential part of our collective identity. Being able to look on the funny side helps us cope with the vagaries of life and satire is important too. Being able to poke fun at the established order is something we in Britain take for granted: there are plenty of places in the world where it could land you in jail, or worse and it’s that subversive nature that means humour also has a role in religion too.
The Sikh gurus were fond of a little gentle playfulness to make their point. During one of his many travels in the early 16th century, Guru Nanak found himself on the banks of the Ganges. Every morning, priests and pilgrims would walk into the Ganges and pour water towards the rising sun so that it could reach their thirsty and long-deceased ancestors in the next world. Guru Nanak decided to join them, but instead of pouring the water towards the east, he turned his back on the sun and poured it in the opposite direction. The crowd was bemused and demanded to know what he was doing. Guru Nanak replied “Well you see, my village is a bit closer than the sun and my crops do need watering.”
Approaching life with this sense of joyfulness is important within the Sikh faith. Whenever I speak to my father on the phone and ask him how he is, he always tells me he’s in ‘Chardi Kala’, which translates as being in elated spirits by the grace of the Almighty. Sikhs remember this concept in our congregational prayer, the Ardas, where we pray for the Supreme Being to keep us forever in this joyful frame of mind and grant the whole of humanity peace and goodwill. My faith is no laughing matter, but this prayer is a regular reminder to me, and other Sikhs, that joy and fun should also be part of our religious practice.
I’m sure I’m not the only one to find myself in a predicament and think “you’ve got to laugh”. By staying in such high spirits, it makes it easier for us to address serious matters in an upbeat manner, and as Monty Python and perhaps even the Gurus would have said, we should “always look on the bright side of life”.